For Earl

Earl is no ordinary man.

I know, I know; any declaration of love can begin the same way, but Earl, far far from ordinary, with his trusty corduroys and gap-toothed smile has won my heart. Hands down. Every day that Earl lays his eyes on me, he greets me with fresh sincerity and a joy that is contagious.

“Well, well, well!” he quips, “Aren’t you just the loveliest thing God done ever created?”.

I have memorized his sweet Southern drawl like my favorite poem. I bow my head slightly, bat my eyelashes a couple of times and become the modest woman my Mother used to tell me about.

“Oh, Earl…”.

Earl professes his deep love fresh each day. I feel the changing staccato of my heartbeat when I see him walking through the door and am eager to greet him with my smile. This is our routine. It will never grow old.

I hand Earl a plate of food I have prepared for him. Fresh bounties of every food group: wildly-colored carrots, steamed and dusted with sea salt and churned butter. Broccoli sauteed with onions and bits of mushrooms. Homemade macaroni with cheese so thick that it clings to the spoon as I struggle to scoop it onto his plate. Fried chicken that begs to be eaten. Cornbread that boasts whole kernels of corn and the perfect marriage of butter and sugar. Sliced watermelon and fuji apple salad that has been dancing with fresh lime. Sweet tea with cubed ice.

Yes, this is where the word love becomes a verb. The kitchen is our scented sanctuary, spices and spirits run amok. And for this moment, I am reminded that life is a fragile experience – one in which food keeps us beautifully woven together.

I have been volunteering at this soup kitchen for over a decade. I have a wonderful job that I get paid for, but the one that is the most challenging and rewarding is the one where there is no exchange of money and services. Rather, we exchange life’s most basic needs: sustenance and love.

Day after day, the line of who is helping who gets blurred. In the humble hours spent preparing food for a thousand hungry people, there is not always time to pray or be in silence. Love is sometimes loud and dirty work. Your hands might get burned, clothes stained, feet tired – and so will your heart.

Earl; worn from life’s challenges, craving something better, shows up everyday still strong enough to wear a smile and be the seventy-year-old flirt that he is. He reminds me of my own divinity, keeps me centered in my compassion. Shows me that in love there is no room for ego or pride, only freshness and purity. See: love is clean, even when our bodies or minds are not.

If the quest is to be able to see ourselves in others, then, I too am Earl. It has been twenty-seven years and six months since I stood in line at a soup kitchen. I was learning about survival and homelessness while other children were busy learning cursive and how to tie their shoes.

I am the sum of rich experiences, the scars of hard livin’ buried right beneath the surface of my soft brown skin. I need to be reminded of my divinity because otherwise my insecurities can creep in the way.

It is here, in this quiet, quick exchange with Earl that I see the God that rests within him, and within myself. It is here that I am whole.

Candi Martinez is a multicultural writer, activist, yoga instructor, surfer and professional in the music industry. She is currently pursuing chaplaincy work in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has a deep love for travel, music, cooking, chess and books.